By Emma Birchall, Head of Research – Future of Work
The link has been contested for centuries with Plato warning Olympians to abstain before competitions. Sex is, of course, just one of the long list of activities we are told to do or to avoid in order to concentrate better, be more creative, have more energy and generally succeed in our work. So, what’s the answer? How do we know what works and what doesn’t? Well, the latest development in the movement to quantify everything could help. Forget the Quantified Self – which tracks calories burned, miles run and steps taken – we now have the Quantified Mind. This movement promises to capture data on our mental performance, day-to-day and year-to-year, identifying patterns of behaviour that enable us to be our best. For some people, this may mean abstaining from sex, but being sure to have a full breakfast. For others, perhaps the combination of meditation and meetings scheduled for 4pm rather than 3pm is the winning formula.
To produce the data required to identify winning behaviour patterns, companies such as QuantifiedMind provide people with a series of tests they must complete before and after the activity in question. Ever wondered whether your morning latte really does increase your alertness, or if it is merely a habit or placebo? Join Quantified Mind’s Coffee experiment and, by completing a set of tests each day before and after having your coffee, you will produce a set of data that indicates how this routine activity really helps or hinders your performance.
But, how accurate is this data on the complex relationship between an activity and subsequent performance? Critics such as John Bogle, founder of investment company Vanguard, argues that “Numbers are not reality. At best, they are a pale reflection of reality. At worst, they are a gross distortion of the truths.” Hence, relying on statistics to create a direct causal link between one activity and another could be misguided given all the distractions, events and emotions that influence our performance on a given day. Even if the data does provide some clues as to how to increase our effectiveness, is this a path we want to go down as individuals and as society, tracking our thoughts, actions and behaviours to the point that it becomes oppressive and perhaps even narcissistic? If the success of the Quantified Self movement is any indicator, these concerns will surely be overshadowed by our curiosity and innate desire to do all we can to enhance our performance. If your colleague skips their morning coffee tomorrow before submitting a winning proposal, you too may find yourself more curious than concerned about your Quantified Mind.
At a recent Future of Work Masterclass event I presented on the use of an IndustryMasters business simulation within a bespoke Virtual World named VirBELA. The talk included inworld footage of globally dispersed virtual teams grappling with business issues in a highly-charged competitive environment with the only real difference being that we were watching avatars instead of the people themselves. We heard and were able to watch arresting behaviours such as team conflict, negative and positive body language, exceptional levels of engagement and critical decision making as it happened in-world. All of which had very clear and obvious applications for business use. Which is why the question I was asked almost immediately did not come as a great surprise: “Whatever happened to Second Life?”.
In this article I’ll try to give a more detailed and thoughtful response than I gave at the time, but even there I was able to recognise that the answer had as much to do with what happened to virtual reality and its value to business as it did the progeny of Linden Labs. For further context, it’s worth considering that in Gartner’s 2013 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies Virtual Reality still finds itself rooted firmly in “The Trough of Disillusionment” with an expected wait of 5 to 10 years before potentially reaching the “Plateau of Productivity” where mainstream adoption begins. And whilst Second Life’s 10th Anniversary last year was an opportunity to celebrate a marketplace with over 2m virtual goods for sale and revenues of $3.2bn – hardly a failure – its use by business has all but disappeared. So what happened?
Firstly, it is arguable that the very public failure of many virtual world projects has had an arresting influence on its growth. Research has indicated that over 90 percent of corporate virtual world projects failed within 18 months and less than 10 percent of virtual world registrants become active users, figures largely attributed to technology issues with bandwidth requirements, rendering speeds and the stability of virtual world platforms. A more significant yet largely unheralded issue is likely to relate to issues of privacy and security within virtual worlds, where firms simply do not trust them enough to openly discuss or work on sensitive material.
Yet, technology has improved immeasurably in the past decade and many of the issues which beset the first forays into virtual worlds by pioneering companies such as Cisco and IBM have been largely addressed with bespoke and secure platforms such as VirBELA offering further solutions to issues of security. From research across a staggering range of disciplines we know that virtual worlds offer a host of benefits, particularly where team collaboration across multiple geographies is a necessity. With numerous studies accentuating the superiority of virtual worlds over alternative collaboration modes such as videoconferencing, both in terms of cost and bandwidth requirements.
Our own work demonstrates that the missing link here may, in fact, be purpose. Simply put companies have been unsure what use to make of virtual worlds. Now, simulation technology has progressed to the point that almost any business issue can be modelled in an effective way allowing organisations to address issues such as M&A activity, Diversity and Innovation, Talent Management processes and so on. Yet the potential now exists to build models within a virtual world where the environment itself can be leveraged to reflect the themes being discussed. Genuinely global teams can be formed around business issues which resonate with employees in an environment specifically adapted for synchronous and asynchronous use, where geography can no longer be responsible for the distance and dysfunction common to virtual teams. A place where the potential of virtual worlds may finally be realised.
by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work
Earlier this month I was in Dusseldorf delivering one of our new workshop formats for engineering firm GEA – a combination of our latest research, insights from the Future of Work Research Consortium and company-specific data.
GEA holds regular monthly meetings of their senior HR leadership and wanted to initiate discussion about their future HR strategy by preceding one of their meetings with a workshop discussing the mega-trends and how they are impacting GEA, and in particular its HR function. It was a useful opportunity to take time to think about these mega-trends, which affect and drive much of the company’s HR strategy.
The workshop we devised was divided into two parts: a morning session during which we discussed the mega-trends we’ve identified during our research and an afternoon session which applied these trends to GEA and extrapolated the challenges they are likely to face in light of these trends.
The one thing we needed to make the afternoon session work was data on how GEA is currently dealing with major challenges. To obtain this we sent our Future of Work diagnostic to all attendees in advance of the workshop, and invited them to complete it and send it to other members of their teams.
Using this information, we were able to give the attendees three different perspectives on mega-trends: how they will affect the corporate community as a whole; the trends FoW members feel will be most important over the coming two decades; and the trends and challenges GEA considers most important. There were often differences in these data sets: for example, a number of things FoW members thought would be important were less important to GEA. We were then able to examine this at a deeper level and encourage attendees to consider the reasons for the different perspectives, weighing up whether their industry make some issues less relevant than others, or whether there are some trends to which they need to pay more attention.
The real value of this for GEA is that we were able to give them access to what we know about trends and help them apply it to their current challenges and to a specific rather than speculative future.
We’re hoping to run some more of these workshops over the coming months – contact email@example.com if you’d like to learn more.
by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work
We had a busy start to the week as we hosted our Engagement 2.0 masterclass in London. It was a diverse event offering a wide range of perspectives on the topic, so towards the end of the day, we asked our delegates to think about – and then share – the key insights they were going to take away. Here are the top five…
The link between engagement and performance
In her keynote, Lynda pointed out that the popularity of engagement surveys is based on the belief that measuring engagement is a way of measuring performance. But some recent research suggests that low performers can be highly engaged and high performers disenfranchised. If this is true, and engagement isn’t as reliable an indicator of performance as previously thought, what does that mean for the future of the engagement survey? And, what are the implications of tying managers’ bonuses to engagement scores?
Is HR ready for Big Data?
There’s no doubt that Big Data holds a lot of promise. Guest speaker Guy Halfteck gave us his perspective on the potential of Big Data has to help companies identify the best talent for each role. Guy’s company, Knack, uses gaming to generate real-time data about people’s skills that can predict an individual’s performance in a role. But, as one of the videos we commissioned with Central Saint Martin’s highlighted, there is still a lot of work for companies to do when it comes to ensuring they are extracting the most relevant data and interpreting it correctly.
One thing our delegates were concerned about was how to customise engagement approaches to reflect diversity. While organisations have traditionally focused on adapting their offerings based on gender, race, disability and other visible indicators, our members felt that diversity ran deeper and that truly customised approaches must now reflect life stages and aspirations.
Renegotiating the employee/employer relationship
The workers of the future won’t be looking for a “permanent” role – they’ll be looking to organisations to add to their career portfolio by providing them with opportunities that will help build their own personal brand. In light of this, how can organisations prepare themselves to renegotiate the deal? How can they create portable credentials that employees can transfer into their next role?
Managing intangible assets
As our recent newsletter highlighted, health and wellbeing is at the forefront of many workers’ minds. At the masterclass, it was pointed out that in the days when jobs were for life, employers took care of employee health and wellbeing – a priority that fell by the wayside as careers models shifted. The big question is how organisations can re-integrate health and wellbeing into their outlook given that in future employees will be on the scene for a few years at most.
And finally…We all need more sleep!
One of Lynda’s key take-aways from Davos was the need for a solid eight hours’ sleep. Lack of sleep causes poor decision-making, poor health, and can even trigger conditions such as Alzheimer’s. But does anyone but the most eccentric of senior executives have the opportunity to take a nap in the middle of the day? One of our delegates said their company encourages naps – and perhaps in future this practice should become more widespread.
By Lynda Gratton
Recently in an interview with the BBC’s Peter Day, I was asked about the future and replied that I expected gender parity within the next decade. Peter simply looked at me and said “But that’s what you said when I interviewed you 20 years ago and it still has not happened.”
Of course he is right and at Davos this week I expect that, as in past years, there will be only a small proportion of women. I’m publically optimistic, but privately pessimistic about achieving a gender balance in the next couple of decades. There are four key reasons why Davos 2024 will probably look exactly like Davos 2014.
Firstly, while societal norms move fast (think about the speed with which attitudes to gay marriage or divorce have changed), corporate practices change at a glacial pace. For example, the way corporations select, promote, appraise people has hardly changed in the last 20 years. Since many of these practices were designed for people who had child care at home (ie a wife), who worked in an office (rather than at home), and who could work standard hours (rather than flexibly) they have proven to be barriers to anyone (often women) who want to work in a different way. And moreover, these are barriers that appear to be resolutely impervious to changing circumstances.
It takes a wise and courageous CEO to actively promote women into business orientated senior executive roles. Some of course do but many do not. Without this push it’s almost impossible to achieve gender parity. Research has shown that more often CEOs promote one woman to the senior team and then stand back and think the job is done. Or alternatively they support a women’s network, a process that we know makes little difference to promotion prospects. We need CEOs who realise these token efforts aren’t enough before we will see any big change.
Like many, I believe that gender parity will only be achieved when men are willing to take as much responsibility for raising a family as women do. Of course there are families where there is already a balance, but this is not the norm. Current working practices implicitly assume that the worker is supported by someone who can stand in for them with regard to family responsibilities, this needs to be true at home.
Finally, and most depressingly, the simple truth is that there are jobs that lead to the top – jobs that require significant management of large numbers of people, jobs that have a heavy dose of finance, jobs that involve working in multiple locations. These are typically not the jobs that women apply for, or are selected into. As a consequence many women are already out of the promotion ladder within a decade of joining the workforce.
I hope I am proved wrong. How marvellous it would be to see equal numbers of men and women at Davos in 2024 but I’m not holding my breath.
As 2013 comes to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about everything that has happened here at Hot Spots Movement, and I thought it seemed right to make my final blog post of the year a round-up of our highlights.
2013 was the year of the FoWlab Jam, with more and more companies realising the value of tapping into the wisdom of their crowd. We’re also increasingly seeing that it’s a very powerful change management tool. We’ve really enjoyed honing and perfecting our processes and platform, too, and taking the jam experience from strength to strength. Recently one user commented that it would be great to have ‘a permanent jam” and we say: “Bring it on!”
It’s been a great year for Lynda, too – her book The Shift experienced phenomenal success in Japan this year , which has been very exciting, and we were all very proud when she won HR Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement award in October. This year also saw Lynda ranked once again in the top 15 of the Thinkers 50.
2013 also saw The Future of Work Research Consortium enter its fifth year, focusing on the key themes of New Ways of Working, Engagement 2.0 and Resilience. As well as contributions from some of the most innovative companies we know – including Knack, ODesk, Holition and Tycoon Systems – we’re collaborating with Central St Martins on a multimedia project around the engagement theme. We were also really pleased to welcome a number of members from Japan and China, joining us for the first time. Our Inclusion and Diversity Research consortium went right to the heart of key issues such as the ‘root causes’ of I & D programmes not having delivered on their promises, and in true Hot Spots Movement style, it brought about some surprising insights.
Collaboration emerged as a major theme for us this year. We’ve come to realise that in today’s super-connected world, collaboration is part of the fabric of everything we do – and yet it’s harder than ever with issues such as diversity and virtualisation are making it increasingly challenging. It’s such an important topic for everyone we speak to that we’re keen to explore it further by making it the subject of a brand new consortium – contact me if you’d like to know more. With all this activity, it’s no surprise that we expanded our team in 2013, with Emma, Kyle and Sarah all joining Hot Spots since the start of the year, and adding their signature styles to our activities.
We’ll be taking a short break over the end of year holidays, but next year promises to be just as action-packed. We’re kicking the year off with the final Inclusion and Diversity masterclass, FoW will be taking a closer look at Engagement 2.0 and Resilience, and we’ll be calling participants together for a new Collaboration consortium. So, all that’s left to say is all the best for Happy New Year in 2014!